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SMSL M500 MKII Review (DAC & HP Amp)

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 4 1.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 4 1.8%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 28 12.7%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 185 83.7%

  • Total voters
    221
OP
amirm

amirm

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increases? or both?
Wouldn't dynamic range specs at different gain levels be more telling of a DAC' performance?
Yes, the other way around. :) On your second question, what levels do you want me to check for? Everyone's amplification gain is different so it is hard to know what DAC output is typical of usage. I could do quarter, half and full or something like that.
 

pseudoid

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Everyone's amplification gain is different so it is hard to know what DAC output is typical of usage.
I ask about the DynamicRange in relation to DACs as my (little) understanding of them tells me that as the digital volume is decreased; the DR suffers equal amounts of dB decrease. Resulting in the noise floor acting like quicksand; as levels are decreased.
Letting the amps do the volume control rather than the internal DACs.
 
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OP
amirm

amirm

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I ask about the DynamicRange in relation to DACs as my (little) understanding of them tells me that as the digital volume is decreased; the DR suffers equal amounts of dB decrease. Resulting in the noise floor acting like quicksand; as levels are decrease.
Letting the amps do the volume control rather than the internal DACs.
DR suffers in any method of lowering the volume control due to absolute noise levels of the device and my analyzer. So that is not avoidable.
 

EXIF68

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This SMSL Device seems to be a bargain. The question is: Is it worth to update from my Benchmark DAC2D to this system? Is there any audible difference to be heard? The headphone amp is rarely in use, most of the time as frontend to my Yamaha A-S2100.

Happy new Year,

Walter
 

audiofun

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This SMSL Device seems to be a bargain. The question is: Is it worth to update from my Benchmark DAC2D to this system? Is there any audible difference to be heard? The headphone amp is rarely in use, most of the time as frontend to my Yamaha A-S2100.

Happy new Year,

Walter
you won't hear a difference via line out (be it XLR or RCA).
also, benchmark dac2's hp amp is very good as well, using the same topology of SMSL M500 (albeit released in 2012.
 

Laserjock

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Yes, if you have purchased highly recommended DACs from me in the last couple of years, there is no reason to upgrade to this unit. These reviews are aimed at people making new purchases giving them the data to find the best performing ones within their budget. It is not a call to upgrade. This is why I don't upgrade my own everyday system either.
Yeah, but I would pick the one that later had the channel flaw…
Still haven’t sent it in
 

Bud Spencer

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Yeah, but I would pick the one that later had the channel flaw…
Still haven’t sent it in
They will change the board and then it's V2.


There is 3 different sound profiles that several reviewers has appraised on other SMSL dac's.
Rich, Tube and Clear 1,2,3.

I can't hear any difference in my unit either in HP amp or line out.

Could someone else also try those those out to confirm it's not working.

Or maby those filters are so subtle that I just don't hear it.

SW ver: 1.0
 
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audiofun

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They will change the board and then it's V2.


There is 3 different sound profiles that several reviewers has appraised on other SMSL dac's.
Rich, Tube and Clear 1,2,3.

I can't hear any difference in my unit either in HP amp or line out.

Could someone else also try those those out to confirm it's not working.

Or maby those filters are so subtle that I just don't hear it.

SW ver: 1.0
they are not digital filters but utilizes es9038's thd compensaion.

yes it's very hard to discern the difference. and it demonstrates THD is not very audible even when it's high (close to -60dBFS)
so even if you have a THD=-60dBFS device it's still good enough :)
 
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cheapsoundguy

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P.S. I did test for one channel being active which was an issue with the original M500 and the bug is not here so all is good.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/

@amirm

I realize I am very new here. But I think you have an obligation to your readership to say more about the problem with the original M500. It had a fairly significant firmware/hardware issue.
  • SMSL did not respond officially to anyone for several weeks, and when they did, their solution was a pretty poor answer of "ship it to us."
  • Some users reporting receiving used/refurbished gear, and other users were told that they would not receive service unless they could prove a problem with their unit.
  • Finally, SMSL did not increment their firmware or hardware version numbers when they did release a fix, which is a really bad practice.
:confused:
I think you should document all of that in your SMSL reviews going forward (especially an M500 review), to put pressure on SMSL to be a better company.

Having said that, this site has been incredibly helpful for me as someone "returning" to the audiophile world after about a 10 year break. I love all of the gear I've purchased based on your hard work/reviews. (Maybe somewhat ironically, including an SMSL SU-9 and SMSL M400).
 
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Bertus_B

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I am considering to buy a SMSL M500 mk2 to upgrade from the DAC I am using now, the E1DA 9038D.
But I am wondering if it really is an upgrade, because the quality of the E1DA 9038D is outstanding.
I never tested an other DAC before, so I don't know if the quality of the SMSL M500 mk2 is better or
comparible with the E1DA 9038D. Is there someone that did a comparison of the E1DA 9038D with other DAC's
or someone that can give me advise.
 

JamesYeomans

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I am considering to buy a SMSL M500 mk2 to upgrade from the DAC I am using now, the E1DA 9038D.
But I am wondering if it really is an upgrade, because the quality of the E1DA 9038D is outstanding.
I never tested an other DAC before, so I don't know if the quality of the SMSL M500 mk2 is better or
comparible with the E1DA 9038D. Is there someone that did a comparison of the E1DA 9038D with other DAC's
or someone that can give me advise.
Here’s the info you need to be able to make a comparison: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/e1da-9038d-review-portable-dac-amp.21556/
 

Bertus_B

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mllumpkin

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL M500 MKII DAC and Headphone Amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $440.
View attachment 175493
I really like the look of the new SMSL UI. It is more modern and nicer to look at. I am surprised though that they still show the input data type in large letters (PCM) rather than volume level which is far more important. Most people play nothing but PCM anyway. Would be nice to also see the selected DAC filter on the home screen.

Another nit is that the 4-way arrow in the remote control does nothing unless you are in the Menu. Would have wanted a set of those to control which input is playing.

Otherwise, the unit is nice and easy to navigate and use. Here is the back panel showing the usual connections:

View attachment 175494
The unit is based on ESS ES9038Pro DAC chip.

SMSL M500 MKII Measurements
Let's adjust the output to get 4 volts nominal output and run our dashboard:
View attachment 175495

This is excellent performance and easily lands the M500 MKII in our top 20 DACs ever tested:

View attachment 175496

Output capability is higher though and with it, better SINAD can be had, matching company advertising:
View attachment 175497

RCA output as usual drops performance a bit but still superb:

View attachment 175668

Dynamic range is exceptional showing great attention to keep noise at absolute minimum:

View attachment 175499

Note again that the output is at 4 volts. It does get better if you allow full output.

Multitone test shows the exceptionally low distortion again:
View attachment 175500

Linearity is textbook perfect as one would expect in this class:
View attachment 175501

USB Jitter is as good as it gets:
View attachment 175502

And rather surprisingly, so is Coax and Toslink which tends to not be as good in other products:

View attachment 175503

IMD distortion is kept at minimum with almost no sign of classic "ESS IMD Hump:"

View attachment 175504

You have the usual choice of filters:

View attachment 175505

Fast linear is the default from factory.

Finally, here is our THD+N vs frequency with that filter:

View attachment 175506

Other filters produce different results due to different levels of attenuation as you see in the previous measurement (but still very good).

SMSL M500 MKII Headphone Output Measurements
You can select to turn headphone on and off through remote and it has its own volume control which is nice. Let's measure its power output relative to distortion and noise:

View attachment 175508

View attachment 175509

These are very respectable power levels for an included headphone amplifier with superbly low noise and distortion.

Dropping the level way down to 50 mv to see noise for very sensitive IEMs and we get very good performance but shy of state of the art:


View attachment 175510


View attachment 175511

Sorry but have not had time to listen to it. I expect it to sound superb though.

Conclusions
The tests I run probe audio devices from different vectors to attempt to find weaknesses in them. Often one or two tests show something. Not the case here. It is clear SMSL engineers have meticulously tested and optimized this design as to leave nothing for me to complain about. You have a superbly performing DAC with more than good enough headphone amplifier in one box. And price is reasonable compared to anything higher performance.

It is my pleasure to recommend SMSL M500 MKII.

P.S. I did test for one channel being active which was an issue with the original M500 and the bug is not here so all is good.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
How would you rate vs JDS Labs element 2 and DX7 Pro? Love the work!
 

audiofun

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How would you rate vs JDS Labs element 2 and DX7 Pro? Love the work!
There won't be audible difference.

JDS Labs Element 2's HP amp may have higher 50mv SINAD as it's using analog attenuation, at the cost of slight channel imbalance (<0.1db down to -50dBFS).

You can choose any one of them. They mainly differs by manufacturer/customer support (US vs China), connectivity (Bluetooth, balanced output, etc, M500 and DX7Pro certainly win), desk space occupation (DX7 Pro is the most unfriendly one), and appearance (Oh I can't express how much I love the volume knob of JDS! on the other hand, M500 and DX7 Pro's displays are sooo ugly...).
 

Lupin

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I saw this thread before, but technical specs of the latest DAC's are so good and so close to eachother
that I am wondering if these small differentials are audible. So I would like to hear from someone that
did a hearingtest to compare DAC's like these.
Yes different DACs measure different. But those differences are very small and all way beyond what humans can hear. Those differences are not audible as for perhaps some exceptions at the absolute bottom every DAC measured by Amir is considered audibly transparent. It doesn't matter if you get a DAC from the top 3 or a DAC from position 200+.

Honestly I think you're in the wrong place if you're after hearing tests for DACs. This is a science based community and sofar no measurements and/or data show that DACs sound different (besides filter settings).
There are other places where you can discuss the subjective side of things at length (and where people pretty much believe everything).
 
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I may be alone in this but I'd be curious to see null testing results between dacs, everyone seems to say they all sound the same based on a few test tones being run through them. That'd be an interesting test imo
 

madDog

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This or ex5 is my question for an aio unit. What's better for iem's in your opinion ? Does anyone know if this can output xlr and rca at the same time ? Would like to connect it to a sub down the line. I know ex5 can do that.
 

lostwind

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This or ex5 is my question for an aio unit. What's better for iem's in your opinion ? Does anyone know if this can output xlr and rca at the same time ? Would like to connect it to a sub down the line. I know ex5 can do that.
I’m also curious about if this one will beat the ex5. I’m going buy a dac/amp for hd660s and better have balanced out for ao200 and Polk r100. After read many review I still can’t decide which one to buy.
 
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